Steven Spielberg famously asked whether a videogame would ever make players cry, but he didn’t specify whether laughing until you cry counts. If it does, “The Simpsons Game” may just qualify. EA’s interactive adaptation of the cartoon family is a hilarious parody of nearly every convention and cliche in the videogame world. While the action is nothing special, gamers should flock to this rare example of comedy done right on the console. To put it in “Simpsons” vernacular: Funniest. Videogame. Ever.
Late in “The Simpsons Game,” Lisa Simpson sums up the challenge facing the title’s developers. “How,” she asks series creator Matt Groening, “could you have sold us out to all those awful videogames?” Homer and Marge’s clan has appeared in more than a dozen games since the series debuted in 1989, all of which suffered from the fundamental flaw of trying to jam the Simpsons into an existing videogame genre.
EA wisely decided to go in the opposite direction — designing the game around the series’ satirical bent. While clever jokes and episode references abound, the real genius lies in the concept: The Simpsons discover early on that they are caught in another bad licensed videogame and try to find out who is to blame (Groening is a primary suspect, but not the only one).
In the process, they fight through levels that mimic and skewer dozens of videogames from the past quarter century. Popular franchises like “Super Mario Bros.,” “Grand Theft Auto,” “Everquest,” “Dance Dance Revolution,” “Medal of Honor” and “Pokemon” all make appearances, as do lesser-known fan favorites like “Katamari Damacy” and “Shadow of the Colossus.” In some of the most inspired moments, the camera switches to an overhead view and the game mimics ’80s arcade classics like “Frogger” and “Gauntlet.”
The parade of parodies is so relentless — and the spoofs so smart and naturally woven into the storyline (developed by writers from the series) that the game captures the essence of “The Simpsons” at its finest.
That spirit is embodied best by Comic Book Guy, who periodically appears when players happen upon a “videogame cliche.” Pull a lever in order to make a bridge extend and he’ll intone, “What would videogames be without switches and levers? Original.”
Though repetitive jumping and punching are sometimes necessary, the developers came up with original abilities for all the members of the Simpsons family, including nonviolent Lisa who can meditate and use a “hand of Buddha” to move objects and freeze enemies. Bart soars through the air as Bartman, Homer turns into a giant rolling ball, and Marge uses a megaphone to recruit citizens to battle for her. Even Maggie gets a few missions, crawling through vents a la “Aliens.”
There’s nothing groundbreaking in the gameplay, which involves a lot of puzzle-solving and simple fighting, but it works well enough in service to the comedy, which is the point. Offline co-op play is an option, but hardly necessary, as the game is quite easy. On the rare occasions when players die, they’re greeted by Nelson’s trademark “Ha ha!”
Graphics are excellent, and all of the characters feature authentic voices. Oddly, however, half the pre-animated cut-scenes look like rough drafts that were never completed.
The only other serious complaint that can be lodged against “The Simpsons Game” is the number of targets it didn’t get around to parodying. Where’s “Halo”? Or “Guitar Hero”? One can only hope the Simpsons will live half as long in interactive form as they have on TV, so they can get around to skewering those games and all the deserving ones yet to come.